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ND Women’s Soccer: Irish host Golden Grizzlies to open tourney

Tim Dougherty | Friday, November 10, 2006

When a team’s sole goal is to win the National Championship, 21 regular season and Big East tournament games can feel like an eternity. For No. 1 Notre Dame, the big show finally begins tonight at 7:30 as the Irish host Oakland (Mich.) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Alumni Field.The Irish enter the match on the heels of their second Big East tournament championship in a row after taking down St. Johns 3-0, Marquette 2-0 and Rutgers 4-2 to earn a No. 1 seed and potential home field advantage until the Final Four Dec. 1-3 in Cary, N.C. The Golden Grizzlies (8-10-1) earned a trip to South Bend after besting Western Illinois in a shootout 1-1 (4-3) to capture the Mid-Continental conference championship.Though Oakland’s résumé this year falls short of those posted by Notre Dame’s last three conference opponents, Irish coach Randy Waldrum expects the Grizzlies to make things hard for Notre Dame, especially on defense.”We’ve been scouting [Oakland]. All indications lean to them bunkering in a little bit,” Waldrum said. “We’ve played a lot of teams that play like that – sit in and really pack the goal. The difficulty in a game like that is being patient. And if you don’t take advantage of your opportunities it could go to overtime and lead to penalty kicks.”The focus of the team is to make sure we’re taking advantage of [our oppertunities] but still being patient.”If the Irish win Friday, they will play the winner of the Michigan vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee game, to be played tonight at 5 at Alumni Field.The first tournament weekend will be the only until the Final Four that contains two games, a situation that presents an added challenge when it comes to preparing for Sunday’s potential match. If the Irish beat Oakland, they will only have one day to go over a game plan for the Wolverines or Panthers. However, Irish captain Kim Lorenzen said the team refuses to look that far ahead.”The most important thing is to take once game at a time,” she said. “I know it sounds cliché, but if we don’t take care of this on Friday there is no Sunday. At this point its tournament time and we are taking the stance that anything can really happen. We are getting [the opposing] team’s best game because it could be their last game. And that’s what we want to bring also – our best game because it could be our last.”Single elimination means no margin of error for the Irish come game time. Similarly, Lorenzen said practices are taking that same shape.”We are really making sure this week our touches are on,” Lorenzen said. “Every pass is perfect – making sure … everything is perfect so that we have a good preparation for Friday. We feel if we practice in an environment that is completely focused than it will be easy to translate that into the game.”When it comes to their game environment, though, the Irish hope Alumni Field looks the same as it has been all season long. Notre Dame ranks third in the country in home attendance this year with an average crowd of 2,350. With 15 Irish players hailing from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, there is never a shortage of family in the stands. David and Susan Shaner, parents of senior defender and third team All-Big East selection Christie Shaner, make their presence felt, however, no matter where the Irish play-traveling to every game home or away in the unofficial Recreation Vehicle of Notre Dame soccer.”[The Shaner’s RV] has kind of become legend now,” Waldrum said. “They come to almost every game. It’s nice to see we’ve got such a following from a family. In fact, we’re fortunate that we have a lot of families that do that.”Presence of the Shaner’s RV has been about as dependable as Notre Dame’s success this year. And both are linked to the closeness of the senior class, as the bonds extend to the players’ parents.”It has kind of become one of those meeting places here at home before the games,” Waldrum said. “When we come out on the field all the families are in the RV hanging out with the Shaners. So it’s kind of a neat thing that we have a group that really follows the team like that.”Those wheels will roll in again on Friday. But from here on out, the Irish are the driver’s seat.